The 9 headed dragon, her 38 friends, and a free ride to Satori 24

Mea Culpa:  This is a long winded review of Simon Tatham's puzzle collection.

I first encountered the nine headed dragon in the Alpine villiage of Lauterbrennen.  It must have been 2004 or thereabouts, and I was traveling with two lovely girls I had met the day before at a hostel in Bern.  The place was a backpackers hotel of sorts, popular amongst base jumpers.  The conversation was lively and I was interested to get to know my new friends better as well.  However my eye strayed to a local newspaper on the table in the corner of the room,  probably a Zwenzig Minuten.  It was open to the puzzle page, and there she was staring at me.  Numbers?  In a grid?  What could this be?  I don't remember if the German instructions were of much use to me then, but I was eager to figure it out.  I've always been a sucker for a good puzzle, and here was something interesting.  The apparent flow of the puzzle is immediately obvious and the mind starts doing what it must.  There was nobody to welcome me to the new world, or to warn me of the dangers therein.  Sudoku, she reared her ugly heads and I ran gladly towards her smoking maws.

During the next decade I was often victim to the temptations of the nine headed dragon.  I competed in speed sudoku, played on devices, tasted her wherever she found a way to reach me, in variant forms, and I read about her intricacies and learned her theory.  However it was not until the present day, and I came across Simon Tatham's puzzle collection, that I learned she had 38 friends.  All of them equally deadly, compelling, and beautiful.  Tie yourself to the mast now dear reader!  Surely some you have seen before, but - beware the majesty of this collection.

John Lilly called LSD a free ride to satori 12.  Perhaps his terminology describing mental states didn't take off into common parlance, but there is some utility to it.  I personally found his lecture on the topic much more compelling than "Center of the Cyclone" which didn't really catch my attention.  A brilliant guy though, well worth reading and listening including his work with dolphins and his "programming and metaprogramming for the human biocomputer".  At any rate, another state he names is called satori 24 - a brain state which is really far more compelling to most people, as it feels, well, normal - but good.  It is that button which is pushed when we are "making progress".  It is that feeling that we are doing what we were born to do, what we know how to do, and doing it right.  It is satori 24, and every damn one of Simon Tatham's puzzles is a free ride to that state.  If one of the modes or difficulty levels or games starts to produce a tolerance and your mind moves free of this path?  There are more modes, more games, and more difficulties.  Hats off to you Mr. Tatham, well done 🙂



Addressing the premine

If you've been following the rise of public coins, you have probably heard the term "premine".  In a public coin, the money supply is public - thus anyone can see when and how all the money was created.  Traditionally, if monetary tokens were distributed before the transactions began on the network, before the transaction validation known as mining began, this was referred to as a for example allows you to filter out premined coins from their list.  But what is their criteria for a premine?

Well it's easy to look at the code some nodes are running and see a hardcoded distribution before mining began.  Coins like ethereum, nxt, and plenty of others obviously have a premine in the code, while BTC, LOG, LTC, DOGE and yes even BCN do not.  However, this is not the whole story.

As more and more public coins were released, their creators used different methods to keep certain portions of the currency for themselves.  Some of these were referred to as a "ninja mine".  In this case rather than code a premine into the blockchain definition, they would simply mine the first blocks themselves before publicizing the existence of the coin.

And why not play these games?  There's no reason a priori why a premine or a ninja mine is fraudulent.  After all, the money supply is public.  If people still want to use the coin, then they are at least doing so with the knowledge available to them (unlike e.g. a fiat currency in which there is no way to verify anything about how many tokens have been issued on a given day).  There are many reasons given by various coin proponents that a premine is a positive thing, such as to fund development related to the coin, or to fund an ICO for an initial distribution.  However, an individual wishing to decide which coin to use might be interested in just how premined a coin is.  Well, how premined is your money?

There are two areas of potential interest here addressing the premine, one is how much money was premined, that is how much existed prior to a given moment in time - and the other is who got it.  For the purposes of this post, I will ignore the latter.  In other words, we will assume that if somebody who isn't you got the money, than it's part of the premine.  Sure, you'd rather Alice (and her friends) had it rather than Bob, but lets assume for now that this is a separate issue.

Quantifying premine via a scalar quantity is in fact not necessarily the right thing to do.  The proper way to look at a coin's distribution is to look at the entire money supply curve vs. time.  Some distribution curves seem fair early on and become more front-heavy later.  Others might start out ninja-mined but look more fair later.  But hey, we want numbers, and now!  So lets pick some parameters.

The simplest way to do it is to pick a time interval, and look at the endpoints.  In other words, we are going to compare two points on the money supply curve: one at some time, such as the present, and another in the future.  The method is very simple:


where P is our scalar index of premine, S_0 is the money supply at some time T_0, and S_1 is the money supply at some future time T_1.

Okay!  So, now for some numbers.

COIN   P0_1   P0_10   P0_30   P10_30   P30_100
BTC   0.96   0.79   0.76   0.96   0.995
LTC   0.90   0.61   0.65   0.92   0.994
LOG   0.93   0.78   0.71   0.906   0.902
ETH/ETC   0.89   0.44   0.21   0.47   0.35
DOGE   0.95   0.47   0.40   0.60   0.42
NXT/RIPPLE   1.0   1.0   1.0   1.0   1.0

Here we have calculated a premine factor for five different choices of the time interval. The first three begin with the present time and extend to one, ten, and thirty years in the future.  The next is the premine factor which one would find ten years from now, comparing to thirty years from now. The final factor is what one would find in thirty years, comparing to a hundred years from now.

The first thing we notice is that premine factors for coins like NXT and RIPPLE don't change regardless of the interval in consideration.  They remain fully premined.  One advantage of such a monetary supply curve is that there is never any supply inflation.  However, there is also no incentive for new miners to come in and secure the network.  This means there is also a disadvantage due to resulting centralization.

Another thing to note is that even though ETH/ETC has a hardcoded premine, it doesn't look so bad with our premine metric.  Why is that?  The reason is the infinite inflation schedule, with a fixed reward per block, just like DOGE.  In fact our shortest interval premine factor shows ETH/ETC as the least premined coin.  This looks good according to our metric, as we see that the premine factor for these coins is quite low, even in the longer time intervals.  However, the disadvantage is that there is no cap on the supply and a continual supply inflation.  This makes an effective demmurage and so long-term investors will be unlikely to hold these coins.

The difference seen between BTC and LTC is solely due to the delayed launch of LTC, as these coins share the same supply curve characteristics apart from a factor of four in absolute size.  As we consider later time periods, this phase shift makes less and less of a difference.

The first three coins in the table have a capped supply, and so the premine factor must always increase.  Other coins like DASH and XMR also share this basic pattern, and show a similar P_30_100.  However, the logarithmic supply curve shows its advantage quite nicely in this metric.  Even though the supply is capped and the inflation remains limited, there remains a far greater amount of coinbase to give out to future miners.

Coins like BTC, LTC, XMR and DASH will in another decade or three remain secure and decentralized only if transaction fees are large enough to incentivize miners, due to their coinbase reward dropping exponentially with time.  However coins with a logarithmic supply curve do not have an exponential reward drop but an inverse function.  This allows them to maintain long-term inflation free behavior without hitting an asymptotic wall of TX fee dependence.


Spirals in Time

Mea Culpa:

I don't have an electronic version to share and confirm that I read it.  You'll just have to find this book on your own and confirm we read the same thing yourself.

"Spirals in Time: The secret life and curious life of seashells"
By Helen Scales

What a great book!  Helen Scales has put a lifetime of study into this and it shows, though she doesn't bother with the usual academic obfuscation.  On the surface this is a great introductory survey to the second most successful class of animals on the planet: the mollusks (losing out only to the insects in complexity, biomass, and diversity).  Learning how these creatures do what they do, and what that is, is fascinating and she helps the reader to experience the thrill of discovery.

However, the context makes a lot more out of this book.  The context is anthropological, as a study of what people know about seashells must focus a little bit on the people.  It turns out that shells have played a hugely important role in human history, and not just by creating the limestone we use to build houses and contributing to a healthy Gaia by regulating carbon exchange.  The student of exchange commodities and bitcoin will be interested to find out here the origin of the word "Spondoolies" as well as the history of how Cowrie shells were traded for slaves for a long long time.  Eventually different Cowrie shells (from another archipelago) were accepted by the marketplace and that was the beginning of the hyperinflation which ended the Cowrie standard era.

This monetary interest might seem boring to you as you read, in comparison to the life and evolution of the chambered nautilus or the argonaut, or the stories of the world's great mathematicians struggling to model the creation of shell shapes and markings.  However if anthropology is your thing you will also enjoy the remarkable stories of the collectors and their voyages and temperaments, as well as stories of shells used around the world ceremonially, musically, and otherwise.

In the end the reader is left with little doubt as to who the best builders are, and it becomes more clear how we could build spaceships and other structures in the future.

Of course being capable of thought, you are already concerned with our health here - as Gaia has shown in geologic history no illness as acute as the one we now face.  It was the coral which told me to read the thing in the first place.  There is some insight into the matter of coral blight to be had from this book, but it isn't a James Lovelock style diagnosis.  The tone is much more upbeat and acknowledging of the mystery and grandeur of life, the twists and turns inside the shell and out.